Next week is a big week for the 2017 draft. I know that sounds odd, but it’s true. The week after Memorial Day is traditionally when BLESTO and National Football Scouting (NFS) introduce their subscribing teams to the next draft class.

If you read this blog, you probably already know what I’m talking about, but if not, here’s a quick primer. About two-thirds of NFL teams subscribe to one of two scouting services, NFS and BLESTO. BLESTO is the older of the services (and based in Jacksonville, Fla.), but National (based in Indianapolis) probably has a slightly better reputation among teams (and a few more subscribing teams). Both services command six-figure sums to provide teams with a detailed but preliminary look at the top rising seniors. Their lists usually number in the 800- to 1,000-player range, and players are given a grade (each service has its own proprietary grading system).

On one hand, these services give subscribing teams a big hand up on evaluation. Based on what these ‘combines’ tell teams, most scouting coordinators put together travel schedules for their scouts. Players with high scores achieve tremendous status going into their senior seasons, and automatically head to the top of the draft list, at least in the early stages of the season.

On the other hand, these services are far from infallible. Subscribing teams have to provide a scout to pitch in his services, and usually these scouts are either new to the business, quite young, or both. In fact, the combine scout role has become the intermediary step between scouting assistant and full-fledged road scout. Therefore, lots of the people putting these grades together are cutting their teeth in the business. In fact, a tremendous amount of their jobs is not a lot different from your garden variety draft fan — combing through hundreds of college rosters to find players that fit certain parameters, calling coaches and asking for recommendations, and even Googling to find top players in out-of-the-way conferences.

Next week will also serve as a kickoff for agents to start looking for these lists. Though they’re proprietary, and very hard to find, and far from perfect, these are seen as the best tool for kicking off recruiting. In fact, to some degree, NFS/BLESTO week kicks off recruiting for most agencies. Getting a copy of the list is almost seen as a measure of status for agents (especially young ones). When you’ve gotten your hands on one of the lists, it means you’ve arrived as an agent. You’ve got juice. You’re wired. You have connections.

The one caveat to the lists is that only seniors are evaluated. It’s one way the NFL has built detente with several schools that would rather not have their players’ heads filled with pro football dreams. As we’ve seen, especially the last few years, the truly elite players rarely make it to their senior seasons. One day soon, the combines will have to address this, or someone else will fill that market space. It’s just one more possible niche you can fill if you’re trying to figure out how to crack the league.

Anyway, as you maybe take a post-draft break from the gridiron and enjoy burgers and dogs by the pool this weekend, understand that NFL scouts are digging in and getting ready for what’s in store in about 11 months.

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